Friday, November 30, 2012

What to drink with that home-cooked meal

A delicious dinner party rarely depends just on the food. As I've mentioned before, my mom is a fount of entertaining wisdom about entertaining, and she believes that a successful dinners are built by plenty of booze, preferably wine. 

But volume isn't everything. Serving the right wine with whatever you're cooking will keep everyone sipping and in good spirits. How to know what to pour? Lately I've been spending my commute reading my company's recent ebook publication, Wine Simplified, and I'm loving its tactical lessons. Here's what I've learned about wine pairing: 

1. You CAN get it wrong. Especially if you blindly pick your old favorites, depending on what you're serving. I love bone dry white wines. They do not go well with sweet, rich foods, like a brown-sugar glazed brisket. Book author Marnie Olds compares it to that toothpaste and orange juice combination--the flavors contrast in a way that sets your teeth on edge.

2. But it's not hard to get it right. A pretty good rule of thumb is "like goes with like." Light acidic foods, like tomato salad, go with low alcohol, acidic wines. Rich, fatty foods go with bolder, high alcohol wines. (Alcohol content averages 13.5% in wine, and deviates from there by several percentage points. We usually perceive high alcohol wine as more assertive and bolder in flavor overall.) One of the cool things about wine is that when you pair it with similar tasting foods, the obvious flavors neutralize each other and you start to taste more subtlety, especially in the wine.

You can really taste this with sweet wines and dessert. You'd think the combo would be a sugar bomb. But try it for yourself: grab a sweet Riesling and pull out a bottle of honey. Taste the wine on its own. Then cover your tongue with a bit of honey and taste it again. It probably tastes much fresher and crisper and way less sweet. I did this experiment early this week at a wine tasting that Marnie led, and it totally worked. 

3. Knowing a little can get you a lot. You don't need to know what kind of wine pairs perfectly with your food--there's no shame in seeking advice at your local wine store. But if you don't know what words to throw out when you're asking for help, you may be led astray. Example: I helped organize a bachelorette dinner party two months ago. I asked for some help at the wine shop across the street from my apartment. I described the night: 12 young women, dinner and embarrassing bachelorette games followed by dancing. He recommended a sugary sweet off-dry red that I knew tasted like glorified Manischewitz. Instead, I should have told him what we were eating and, more importantly, how it was being prepared: 
  • Beef short ribs
  • Vinegar
  • Braised
Those few words could have him to the rich, high alcohol Pinot Noir that a knowledgeable friend recommended after I texted her for help.

Takeaway: Wines taste dramatically different depending on what you're eating with them. If you think you dislike certain types of wine, you may just be drinking them with the wrong companions. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Brussels Sprouts in Butter

Walk into my apartment on a weeknight and you're likely to find two, if not three roommates in the kitchen. We've got a cushy living room and a dining room that seats 12, but more often than not we end up lounging in the kitchen--perched on some rickety Ikea stools or atop a laminate countertop. There's something about a kitchen, even one as dingy and dim as ours, that feels like more like home than any other room in the joint.

These sprouts capture that feeling of communal, casual warmth. They're a snap to toss together on a weeknight, and there's no need to stand on ceremony when you serve them--they taste best shared straight out of the pan with a side of "how was your day" conversation, standing up or perched in whatever room feels most like home. 

Brussels Sprouts in Butter
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bag of washed and trimmed brussels sprouts
Kosher salt

1) Use a sharp knife and cutting board to cut the sprouts in quarters.
2) Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in your largest frying pan over medium-high heat. Wait til it foams. Then add the sprouts in a single layer. (This will probably be half your sprouts. You'll do a second batch after.)
3) Cover the sprouts with the top of the pan and let soften for 4-5 minutes. 
4) Uncover and toss until golden brown (or a little burnt and crispy on the edges, which is how I like these). Add salt to taste.
5) Repeat steps 2 to 4 for the rest of the sprouts. 

Notes for the Naked
  • Can't find a pan top? Use a dinner plate or a piece of foil.
  • If you struggle to get things looking all golden brown and crispy while cooking them on top of your stove, you're probably adding too much to the pan. Crowding your ingredients will cause them to steam instead of crisp up. Work in batches--you can always nibble on the first batch while the second one is cooking.
  • Kosher salt has big flakes that dissolve more slowly into food. I like tossing it on veggies before serving for more explosive flavor than regular table salt can give you.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kale Sushi Salad

This recipe is a rice-free riff on popular sushi salad recipe, which combines vinegary rice with seaweed, ginger, wasabi, and all the usual vegetarian fillings in American sushi joints: cucumber, avocado, and soy beans. Plus it's got kale in it, so you know it's hip.

I like this recipe because it's a modest little thing: You can't tell from looking at it how damned tasty it is. Served up at the table, it looks like a giant bowl of greens, and you expect it to have the grassy funk of an overly healthful salad (what my roommate so enticingly calls "fart in a cup"). But all those invisible ingredients--the shake of wasabi powder, the gurgle of rice vinegar, the snippets of seaweed--combine to make one pungent, flavorful salad. Therefore, unlike most green salads, this dish doesn't play well with others. Try serving it as a palate cleanser after your appetizers while you're futzing in the kitchen to get the entree on the table. Or toss with a slice of grilled salmon for a lunch that's worth powering through your morning emails.

The ingredients list below is pretty rough, so feel free to toss in shredded carrots, fried tofu, scallions, ramen noodles--whatever sounds good to you.

Makes 8 servings

1 head of kale, washed with leaves torn from stems, and roughly chopped (or use one of those pre-washed bags you get at the grocery store. You'll need about 8 ounces.)
1/4 cup of neutral oil (I used grapeseed)
1 teaspoon salt
2 Persian cucumbers (or 1 English hothouse cucumber)
1 cup frozen edamame
1 Hass avocado
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 sheets of nori seaweed
2 teaspoons wasabi powder
Access to hot water from the tap
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon ground ginger (or two tablespoons of chopped pickled ginger)
Sugar or agave nectar to taste (I used 1 teaspoon of agave)
1/2 bag of romaine lettuce

Notes for the Naked
  • Kale is too fibrous to eat raw, but cooking it causes you to lose some nutrients. "Massaging" the kale makes it palatable raw (and is also kind of fun.) 
  • If you're not going to serve this right away, toss the avocado with lemon juice so it doesn't turn brown. You can stick it in a plastic bag or tupperware if you don't want it to mush into the salad. 
  • Fresh spices taste vastly different from old ones that have been sitting around for 1+  years. If you're working with old spices, add more. (Better yet, get new ones...but who remembers to do that.) Also, this dressing is pretty flexible and hard to mess up. Adjust it until you like the way it tastes. 

1. "Massage" the kale: Put the kale in a big bowl. Add the neutral oil and salt. Use your hands to squeeze and mash the kale for 2 to 3 minutes until it looks soft and shiny.  
2. Prepare the add-in veggies: Cut up your cucumber and avocado. Defrost your edamame. (I just put them in a glass with hot water from the tap, let them sit for a few minutes, and then drain.) Toss them in with the kale and add the sesame seeds.
3. Toast and cut up the nori: Turn on your stovetop to medium-high. Hold one nori sheet with your fingers and pass it over the flame. It should turn golden greenish brown. Repeat until the hold sheet is toasted, and then repeat with the second sheet. Use a pair of scissors to snip up the nori into tiny shreds.
4. Mix up the dressing: Spoon the wasabi powder into a cup or bowl. Add a tiny bit of hot water to the tap and mix until you have a paste. Add the sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ground ginger, and sugar/agave nectar. Taste and adjust until you find it appealing.
5. Toss everything together: Add the dressing to the salad. Before serving, toss with romaine for some crunch. Add the avocado if you've left it on the side for storage. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tastes that take you back, and tastes that take you forward

Came back today from Rosh Hashana at my parents' house. Two memorable tastes from this holiday:

1. Biscottini di Roma, simple disks of small, soft almond cookies that my mom makes every year for the holiday. Growing up I always thought these were called Biscottini Darona after my mom's close friend with the same name. The cookies and the friend shared a pillowy sweetness. Takes me back to when dropping a word into conversation for the first time was risky business, because you learned it from a book and prayed that it's pronounced phonetically. (I'm looking at you, rendenzvous.) Back to when Urban Dictionary didn't exist so you just pretended to understand obscenities until you pieced them together through context. Back to when you didn't--couldn't--run away from the unknown.

2. A glass of wine, sipped at the kitchen table with my parents and a friend. One of those moments when it's a real pleasure to be a grownup. Also, one of those moments when you look across the table at your parents and they look back at you and you wonder whether you're all having the same thought: "This is a person, independent of his or her relationship with me."

Happy new year. May it be one in which you appreciate your and your loved ones' past, present, and future selves.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cold brew cure-all

My dad woke me up at 5:40 every morning in high school to make the 6:35 train to New York City. Groggy and sour, I’d plod downstairs into the kitchen for breakfast in a dark corner of a quiet room with a cup of coffee. I started drinking coffee when I began commuting at 14, and those mugs fortified me for the daily trip from my house to the looming city. A decade later I am, at heart, still the same groggy, sour girl, but my three or four daily cups bring me the affability I don’t naturally possess and sooth the aches of adult life. Coffee is a potent elixir, one that transforms a small girl into a savvy commuter, a frazzled kid into a competent teammate, an awkward encounter into a serene stroll. When something is wrong, coffee can usually make it right.

These last few weeks of summer are a painful time, with shoulders stinging from lazy sunscreen application and scabbing insect bites, with legs cringing as they anticipate the departure of their beloved jorts. For an antidote, I prescribe several doses of cold-brew coffee. The method, which has become trendy in recent years, is too easy: just soak coffee grounds in cold water for 12-18 hours and strain through a filter or French press. The resulting concentrate is sweeter and milder tasting than chilled hot coffee, which becomes more acidic the longer it sits in the fridge. I like it diluted with a few tablespoons of water, a slug of whole milk, and a shake of cinnamon, the perfect salve to the aches of change.

Cold Brew Coffee
2/3 cup coffee grounds
1.5 cup cold water

  • Pour grounds into a a large jar or bowl with a lid. Stir in water. Refrigerate for 12-18 hours
  • Ppour grounds through a mesh strainer. Discard solids. Line strainer with a coffee filter and pour the liquid back through. Store in a lidded container for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
Notes for the Naked:
  • A French press will speed up the process—just prepare in the pitcher and plunge after 12-18 hours. I can’t deal with another utensil in my kitchen so I use my strainer
  • If you don’t have a mesh strainer, you can use a regular colander. Just be prepared to strain in batches using 2-3 coffee filters, because they’ll get so full of grinds that they will clog
  • Don’t forget to dilute the concentrate before drinking. Cold brew is naturally sweet enough to be drunk black—if you usually take your coffee with milk, give it a shot

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Don't cook but want to start?

A great recommendation from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, via xoJane:

Pick the one thing thing that annoys you every time when someone else makes it because they're doing it wrong. That's where you start; that's where you'll be driven and it will never feel like a chore to make something you like as awesomely as it can possibly be made.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Missed you

Blog, it's been too long. I'm sorry for the protracted silence, but on a hot summer day, the cool glow of the Internet can't compete with the sheen of a melting Pinkberry

or the technicolor produce at the farmers market

roasted into a candy-tinted salad.

Nothing against you, blog. But looking at you is not so appealing when I was looking at this:

Despite the shorter days and already cooling temperatures, fall will offer lots of warm things. Especially because I'VE MOVED, into an apartment with approximately six times the counter space (with room for my beloved stand mixer, Buttercup) and infinity times the entertaining space (with a doozy of a dining room). So even though this radiant summer begins to dim, the specter of fall glows on the horizon. It's going to be a delicious season.

Radish, Beet, and Kohlrabi Salad
Adapted from Martha Stewart
10 small beets, greens trimmed off (any color)
16 radishes, greens trimmed off
2 bulbs kohlrabi, trimmed and peeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Roast beets: Group beets by size, and wrap them by twos and threes in foil. Wrap the largest ones alone. Seal tightly.
  • Place on a baking sheet (or just straight into the oven) and roast until tender, about 1 hour.
  • Unwrap beets, let cool slightly, then peel. Cut beets into quarters.
  • Roast the radishes and kohlrabi: Cut 8 of the radishes into quarters. Cut the kohlrabi into similarly sized chunks. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast until tender.
  • Slice remaining radishes into thin rounds. Toss cooled roasted veggies and fresh radishes in a medium bowl. Add thyme and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, and toss gently. 
Notes for the Naked:
  • Kohlrabi is an alien-looking vegetable that tastes like mild broccoli stems. Once peeled, the purple kohlrabi looks just like the white (disappointing...) I bought it because my new roommate is a fan; not sure that I'd go for it again. Potatoes, carrots, or any other root veggie would be a delicious substitute here. 
  • Save your beet and radish stems. They're delicious sauteed or in soup, and are supremely healthy
  • Beet juice stains. Be careful. For a detailed description on roasting beets check out Not Eating out in New York